The United Nations has hinted at the fact that it believes Russia rigged the Crimea secession vote by oppressing alternative opinions and threatening those who opposed secession. A new report by the UN details the vote and the actions taken by separatists and Russian officials that show that the vote was most likely far from legitimate. This may come as little surprise to those who have believed that Russia has been solidly behind much of the disorder stemming from Ukraine.
Last month, a staggering 96.77 percent* of Crimea’s voters reportedly chose to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, sending what Moscow described as an unequivocal signal that the region wanted nothing to do with its erstwhile leaders in Kiev.
But supporters of secession weren’t willing to take any chances, flooding the airwaves with scare-mongering propaganda and violently repressing virtually any show of dissent, according to the findings of a confidential U.N. draft report on the human rights situation throughout Ukraine in the run-up to the vote. A final version of the report is expected to be presented to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, April 15, and then subsequently made public. It comes amid growing concerns in Washington and other Western capitals that Russian strongman Vladimir Putin may be preparing to invade eastern Ukraine as well.
The U.N. report represents the first independent assessment of the human rights situation in Ukraine since a bloody crackdown on pro-Europe protesters plunged the country into turmoil, leading to the ouster in February of the country’s former President Viktor Yanukovych, the unrest in Crimea, and Russia’s subsequent invasion and annexation of Crimea. The report notes that Ukrainian political life has long been afflicted by endemic corruption and a “culture of effective impunity” that subjected Ukrainians to the whims of security forces that systematically violated their human rights. But it focused most sharply on the political upheaval that followed Yanukovych’s decision in November not to sign an association agreement with the European Union, a decision that brought tens of thousands of protesters into the streets of Kiev and Ukraine’s other major cities.
Ten days before the March 16 referendum, Ukrainian television broadcasts were “shut off” in Crimea, replaced by Russian TV channels supporting secession, according to the report. (Ukrainian authorities retaliated by blocking Russian broadcasts in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities.)
Bloggers, activists and other critics of secession were threatened, detained, and tortured. A delegation of human rights monitors, meanwhile, “received many reports of vote rigging,” according to the report.
“The delegation met with sources who claimed that there had been alleged cases of non-Ukrainian citizens participating in the referendum as well as individuals voting numerous times in different locations,” according to the 38-page draft report, written by Ivan Simonovic, the U.N. assistant secretary general for human rights.